Chocolatical Cookery

October 31, 2016

 

Seventeenth-century treatises on cacao such as those featured here were published as medical literature or botanicals, and are now catalogued among the rare books of pharmaceutical libraries. Chocolate was consistently sold as a drug for more than two centuries of its European circulation, though it could be had early on in taverns and was eventually part of the barista's arsenal and the café menu. If it had multiple identities that is partially because through chocolate's socialization as a curative drink, it turned into a social habit. As we have seen, by the mid-eighteenth century, chocolate found itself depicted in painting and its history woven into fiction. The number and renown of treatises about cacao make it easy to see how the mercantile and medical establishments popularized the chocolate drink. But alongside those official discourses, another unofficial channel recommended chocolate for home use. Some of the earliest cameo appearances of the drink can be found in seventeenth-century cookbooks.

 

Compiled by women and passed from mother to daughter, family cookbooks represent a confluence of social and domestic wisdom. The Wellcome Library has an impressive 300-volume collection, much of it digitized. These hand-written manuscripts contain an astounding variety of helpful recipes. Their topics range from home-made necessities like first-aid salves and tonics, to recipes for all sorts of animal and plant comestibles; and from the commonplace (a concoction of mutton fat for burning or scalding, Lady Ayscough, 1692) to the extraordinary (drinking urine boiled with a mouse to cure bed-wetting, Grace Acton, 1621). In cases where women could write or had secretaries, families could keep the memory of their experiments in the kitchen alive and school the next generation in the hard-earned wisdom of trial and error.

 

As a written record, cookbooks constitute a kind of unique inheritance women created and protected for their families. Some, such as the Johnson Family cookbook (1694-1831), span centuries and showcase a personal history of taste. While a recipe may have circulated widely, each family could tweak it to create a signature version of the dish or pomade and keep the secret ingredient in the family. What’s more, recipe books provide evidence that women toiled and tested to make sure that their families had safe, effective recipes for home cures and fashionable cuisine.

 

The recipe book often highlighted in histories of cacao belongs to Lady Ann Fanshawe (1625-1680). Early entries begin in 1651 and, according to notations in the text, were written by herself or by Joseph Averie (perhaps a secretary or scribe), and include recipes attributed to her mother Margaret. She passed the book on to her daughter in 1678, two years before she died. Her daughter and others continued to add recipes until 1707. In Madrid, 10 August 1665, Lady Ann entered a recipe for "chocolatte" into the family recipe book for food and drugs. It appears far into the book on page 332 and is listed as #23, perhaps the 23rd recipe she discovered in Spain, where she traveled with her husband Sir Richard Fanshawe, ambassador to Spain under Charles II after the Restoration.

 

While the reader might expect that this diary of chocolate consumption is prized for its recipe, it is instead famous for Fanshawe's legibly negative reaction to the drink. She left evidence of extreme displeasure with the recipe by crossing the half-page entry out with swirls so dense it is not readable. While it was common for cookbooks to feature recipes with “X”’s through them (see head image, page facing the chocolate recipe), they did not necessarily signal disapproval. Oftentimes, a recipe book would be copied into another book, in which case crossing out was a sign that a recipe had already been transferred (Leong). But Fanshawe’s aggressive swirls over the directions "to dresse chocolatte" leave little doubt that this recipe from Madrid did not merit a repeat performance.

 

A final explanation under the recipe on p. 333, which is not overwritten, but is nonetheless difficult to decipher, may provide evidence that it was not chocolate but the Madrid particular preparation that displeased. It appears to say,

 

 

The best Chocolatte / but[ter] of the Indies,

made in Seville in Spaine

 

Unfortunately, the Sevillian recipe was never written into the book, but the dud chocolate that prompted this note also gave history a bonus. Luckily for posterity, a small scrap on paper on which Fanshawe illustrated a chocolate pot and molinillo was sewn in on top of the recipe, perhaps after it was rejected, and thus escaped censure.

 

 

 

The sketches, labeled "the same chocolaty pottes that are mayd in the Indis," provide the first visual record of the utensils imported to Europe from New Spain to prepare and serve chocolate. Her apparent fascination with the crockery suggests that chocolate was a novelty to her when she voyaged to Iberia and that, though she did not like Madrid's version of it, she thought it curious enough to record the exotic pot in which it was made and served.

 

Still, no matter what its curiosity and curative properties, the Madrid recipe did not make it back to England with Lady Ann Fanshawe's family and her book. Once back in the British Isles, had she found Stubbe’s Indian Nectar, she would have understood why her Protestant Saxon taste buds did not enjoy the Catholic preparation, but might have tolerated it mixed with milk and an egg. A compilation of recipes by Hannah Woolley suggested as much as early as 1662 (in next week's blog).

 

 

For Further Reading

 

“'Mrs Fanshawes Booke of Receipts of Physickes, Salves, Waters, Cordialls, Preserves and Cookery written the eleventh day of December 1651 by Me, Joseph Averie,” MS7113, Wellcome Library.

 

Leong, Elaine. "‘Crost by mistake’: Scribbling in early modern recipe books." The Recipes Project. 11 Sept. 2012.​

 

Wall, Wendy. Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.

 

Weisser, Oivia. "Ill Composed: Sickness, Writing, and Recipes in Early Modern England." The Recipes Project. 6 Dec. 2015.

 

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